NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL VOLUME 21, NUMBER 1, 2007--2008PRINCIPALS’ LEADERSHIP AWARENESSAND SCHOOL CULTURE: A CASE STUDY Shirley Johnson Steve Busch Sam Houston State University ABSTRACTThe climate and culture of a campus is impacted by the leadership behaviors ofthe campus principal. Often the principal is unaware of this impact becausethose behaviors are directly related to underlying motivations that affect facultyreactions. Two important leadership behaviors exhibited by principals,authority and structure, are explored through a case study of three elementaryprincipals and their faculties to determine the impact on school climate.Findings explain how principals’ leadership behaviors can affect trust andpositive relationships that are crucial to a healthy campus culture and climate.Through recent years, much has been written about the impact ofculture and climate on the instructional delivery system at the campuslevel. Most administrators understand that the premise of the researchfindings are directly relevant to the quality of relationships; yet, manyprincipals are still experiencing difficulty implementing strategies toimprove campus culture and climate. Since relationships are tangled inone’s personal behavior, it becomes imperative to exam thosebehaviors and honestly explore how they impact the school. The difficulty in understanding the impact of personal behavioron the climate of a school is directly related to self-awareness(Johnson & Busch, 2006). We may read the words and comprehendthe message regarding our personal behaviors, but we may be unawarethat certain personal behaviors are problematic within our leadership 40
41 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALstyle and may contribute to a negative impact on the culture andclimate. Practicing principals or students in principal preparationprograms make substantial deposits to their personal knowledge basethrough graduate studies or through professional development; yet,this training does little to influence their behavior in an actualadministrative position. With the emphasis in improving climate andculture, we must find ways to enable principals to “see” their behavior,but more importantly, to understand the personal motivators that drivetheir behavior and describe the impact on school culture and climate.This is difficult work because it involves surfacing perceptions andbeliefs that are shaped by numerous personal and environmentalfactors. Since the effect of principal leadership on student performancein a school is mediated by the condition of the school’s culture andclimate, it is crucial that we understand more about the underlyingmotivators of the leader’s personal behaviors and explore how thesebehaviors significantly affect school culture and climate. Whenconsidering that the basis for the creation of any culture consists of theunderlying social behaviors that shape beliefs over time, the notion ofhow school leaders impact the development of culture is of significantimportance. Evans (1996) stated: Authentic leaders build their practice outward from their core commitments rather than inward from a management text. In addition to their craft knowledge, all administrators have basic philosophies of leading, of school functioning, and of human nature, philosophies that are deeply rooted in their personal history and professional experience. These philosophies guide their behavior, but they usually remain tacit. (p. 193) Combs, Miser and Whitaker, (1999) explained the impact ofbehaviors on leadership through the person-centered view in thefollowing statement.
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 42 The person-centered view of people contends that we do not respond directly to the forces exerted on us. Instead, we behave in terms of the meanings of perceptions that exist for us at the moment we act. More specifically, people behave according to how they see themselves, the situations they confront, and the purposes they seek to fulfill. (p. 10) Lewine and Regine (2000) stated it differently: “When theindividual soul is connected to the organization, people becomeconnected to something deeper – the desire to contribute to a largerpurpose, to feel they are a part of a greater whole, a web ofconnection” (p. 27). Enabling principals to identify and understandthose perceptions and beliefs is the beginning of assisting principals indeveloping personal self-awareness. This is also the basis of ourresearch; to explore the impact of personal behaviors related tomaintaining a healthy culture and climate. Theoretical Constructs Most available information from one research project oranother is summarized into “how to” books that outline either step-by-step climate improvement strategies or general discussions of waysthat administrators can positively impact the culture and climate. Thisinformation is marvelous and very helpful; missing, however, is theopportunity to examine the one variable that Bosker, Witziers, andKrueger (2003), Leithwood (1992) and Hallinger and Heck (1998)suggested must be understood if administrators are to make progress infurther understanding how to improve the culture and climate of aschool. That variable is the principals’ personal behaviors and theirimpact on a school’s culture and climate. Examining the principal’srelationship with the school climate is the center of our work and theresults are beginning to open a window to the heart of principals’personal behavior as it relates to campus leadership, building andmaintaining the school’s climate, and improving student achievement.
43 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL When discussing the principal’s impact on schools, Hallingerand Heck (1998) suggested that the principal’s influence has anindirect effect on learning and is mediated by their interactions withothers, situational events, and the organizational and cultural factors ofthe school. Ogawa and Bossert (1995) reported that leaders functionwithin organizational cultures and affect the ways in which membersof the organization interpret events which then influences theirbehavior. Hall and George (1999) stated that the manner in whichteachers perceive and interpret the actions of the school principal leadsto the development of the culture of the school and the principal’soverall approach to leadership is related to the successfulimplementation of innovation by teachers. These researchers concluded that the impact that principalshave on student achievement is directly related to the culture andclimate rather than a direct result of the principal’s leadership. Giventhat the principal’s effect on student achievement is indirect, thenunderstanding their personal behaviors and motivations becomescrucial in understanding that impact on campus climate. Case Study Research In a recent qualitative case study of three large, inner cityelementary schools in the greater Houston, Texas area, we examinedthe perceptions of teachers regarding their principals’ behaviors asthey managed the school. We were interested as to whether teachers’perceptions of their principals’ behaviors matched those of theteachers. The principals’ leadership behavior was measured by theLeadership Profile and the teachers’ perceptions through a series offocus group questions targeting principals’ leadership behavior andtheir impact on student achievement and school climate. In addition,the principal was asked the same series of questions posed to teachersin the focus groups. Before proceeding with the findings, it isimportant to understand the basis structure of the Leadership Profile soas to better understand the findings.
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 44The Leadership Profile In our work with administrators for more than a decade, theprincipals who became questionable for tenure were those whoseperformance was shaped by the ethereal “difficult to describe”category rather than concrete examples of performance flaws ordeficits. Seeking ways to illuminate those difficult to describeperformance issues, it became important to find an assessment orinstrument that would enable principals to understand the impact oftheir behavior and allow the supervisor to appropriately describe theproblems. Creating these descriptions allowed both the principal andthe supervisor to understand exactly what the behavioral issues wereand then better plan for improvement. The Birkman Method@ (Birkman, 1995) was selected to betterdescribe these behaviors; however, the language in the assessment wasmodified to match educational administrators. Out of thatmodification, The Leadership Profile (Johnson, 2003) emerged tomore appropriately describe the usual behavior of each principal, theirunderlying motivations (needs), and the stress that results when theindividual’s needs are not met. The Leadership Profile results providefour major clusters of leadership behaviors that describe (a) buildingrelationships, (b) organizational behaviors, (c) decision-making, and(d) goal achievement. Each cluster is comprised of several componentsthat provide the administrator with a glimpse of how they are mostlikely to impact their school and primarily its culture and climate. The Leadership Profile explains principals’ usual behavior ortheir socially acceptable behaviors that they have been taught, exposedto, or developed as a result of being associated with a specific workingand/or social environment. In most cases, the usual behavior is themost comfortable set of behaviors exhibited: these behaviorsdemonstrate when an individual is most comfortable and at their best.The Profile also explains the level of needs the principal requires from
45 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALother people to remain in their usual behavioral style. The usualbehaviors are not unknown to the individual; it is the needs that mostindividuals are not aware of and can not generally articulate that drivetheir behavioral impact. Needs are the motivating force in behaviorand when those needs are not met, an individual will exhibit stressrelated behavior. Often people are not aware of this process nor theimpact such behavior can create. As a result, the individual may neverrecognize the unproductive effects. The results of the Leadership Profile are dependant upon theprincipal’s answers to several sets of questions that ask for perceptionsof others and perceptions of self. The results of both sets ofperceptions provide indications of our unique actions and reactions tothe world around us. More importantly, these perceptions explain thebasis for how and why we behave. The Leadership Profile measuresthese two different perspectives of the principal’s behaviors and offersa more incisive and complete assessment of behavior coupled with theprincipal’s natural strengths and limitations. Findings The results of the Leadership Profile (LP) providedcomprehensive data regarding the principals’ behavior for the 11components that comprise the categories of: (a) building relationships,(b) organizational behaviors, (c) decision-making, and (d) goalachievement. The results of the teacher focus groups were coded as tothe relationship of each comment to the 11 LP components for each ofthe principals. When the results were analyzed, the teacher responsesmatched the results of the principal’s profile almost perfectly.However, the principals’ interview responses, in most cases, did notagree with the LP results or the teachers’ responses. Again, in almostevery category, the principals’ interview response matched their usualbehavior LP scores but did not match their need and stress scores.
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 46When principals received the LP feedback in conjunction with theresults of their interview, they were amazed. Their mantra was, “I wastotally unaware of what I was doing.” Even though all the responses were revealing, the principals’behaviors from the Organizational Behaviors category (structure andauthority) had the greatest influence on the perceptions of the teachers.The Organizational Behaviors cluster describes the principal’sbehaviors regarding the LP components of structure and authority.Structure describes how the individual controls issues associated withdetail, structure, follow-through, and routine. It also provides aglimpse of how persistent the principal is in the completion ofactivities or in follow-through. Authority describes how the principalmanages authority, whether giving or receiving it. Both componentscombined illuminate a revealing pattern of principal’s behavior relatedto the organization and management of the school and eventually howthat behavior affects the climate and trust base of the school. Educational research supports this same notion that the schoolleader’s attention to structure within the school is an important part ofimpacting student outcomes. Waters, Marzanno, and McNulty (2003)identified the leadership responsibility of order as directly related tostudent achievement in schools. Order describes the leadershipresponsibility of establishing standard operating procedures androutines within the school organization. Leithwood et al. (2004)highlighted redesigning the organization as one of the core leadershippractices in schools that contribute to student achievement: Successful educational leaders develop their districts and schools as effective organizations that support and sustain the performance of administrators and teachers, as well as students. Specific practices typically associated with this set of basics include strengthening district and school cultures, modifying organizational structures and building collaborative processes (p. 7).
47 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALImposing structures on schools simply with the intent to “fix or repair”organizational deficiencies is believed to be detrimental to theimprovement of student outcomes. Witziers, Bosker, and Kruger(2003) reported that it appears that when school leaders implementactivities aimed at improving the school there is a negative effect onstudent achievement. The researchers caution that this finding shouldbe interpreted carefully and that it could be the result of principals inschools with low student performance feeling compelled to take actionto improve their schools. This would seem to suggest a “quick-fix”mentality that would impose structure without integrating them intothe mission and culture of the school. In regard to the principal’s use of authority, Fullan (2001)described the leadership behaviors that successful principals exhibit intheir schools in the following manner: Leaders in a culture of change realize that accessing tacit knowledge is crucial and that such access cannot be mandated. Effective leaders understand the value and role of knowledge creation, they make it a priority and set about establishing and rein forcing habits of knowledge exchange among organizational members…Control freaks need not apply: people need elbow room to uncover and sort out best ideas. Leaders must learn to trust the processes they set up, looking for promising patterns and looking to continually refine and identify procedures for maximizing valuable sharing. Knowledge activation is about enabling, not controlling (p. 87). When analyzing the results of our research, several conceptsemerged that related the principals’ use of structure and authority tothe faculties’ perception of trust toward the principal. Kochanek(2005) in her book, Building Trust for Better Schools: Research-BasedPractices, discussed numerous models of trust building and relatedthem to public schools. The important emphasis of all the modelsKochanek discussed is that trust evolves over time through repeated
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 48interactions. Trust building in schools must begin with the reduction ofvulnerabilities in order to increase the number of positive exchangesthat builds trust. Since the principal in a school holds the formalpower, it is incumbent that he/she to bring the faculty and otherstogether to increase those positive interpersonal exchanges that buildtrust. These models and theories are extremely powerful; however, animportant aspect has been discounted that carefully factors into theprocesses Kochanek suggested for building trust. Principals intuitively know that they must develop a foundationof trust relationships if they are to be effective. In most cases, theprincipals speak from their frame of reference and are not consideringhow their personal perceptions shape their relationships and reactions.Often the expectation is that faculty fulfills their needs while facultyneeds are often not considered. Faculty needs are often ignored notbecause the principal is selfish or does not like certain faculty, but isdue to a total lack of awareness regarding their own individual needsand how those needs impact or intersect with the needs of others onthe campus. Since the building of trust is so crucial to creating apositive climate, the principal must become aware of his/her needs andfind productive ways to create a level of trust that will enable thecampus to achieve higher levels of performance. Conclusions While examining the principals’ use of structure and authority,it became clear how a principal can create immense distress amongfaculty by simply responding to their own need behaviors. Forexample, a principal in our research demonstrated a high usualstructure behavior which is defined as possessing the ability to createsystems and procedures that enable the campus to run very smoothly. In the focus groups, this principal’s behaviors matched theteachers’ responses as they described her as being very organized andestablishing efficient procedures. They said, “The building runs very
49 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALsmoothly most of the time, but there are ‘times.’” In most cases thisprincipal was very consistent with her use of structure because she notonly had a high usual score, but also a high need score, meaning thatshe personally needed for the building and her personal life to behighly structure and predictable. The hesitation in the teachers’ remarks of, “…but there are‘times’” reflected this principal’s very low stress score for structure.Her behavior for usual and need was very predictable for the teachers;however, when stressed, she would invariably change a buildingprocedure, a program detail, etc. with very little suggestion or prompt.These changes usually would occur with a mere suggestion by one ortwo teachers in the hallway. As a result of her stress behavior relatedto structure, the faculty witnessed a contradiction to her usual behaviorwhich frequently raised levels of concern among the faculty. Theseseemingly reactionary changes did not produce positive interactionsthat build trust among faculty. Consequently, the faculty quicklyacknowledged her, as recorded in the focus groups, as beinginconsistent in her behavior and not trustworthy at times even thoughthey had previously lauded her organization and management. In theprincipal’s interview, she did not perceive the impact of her behavioron trust building and could not understand why teachers often did notrespond to her quick ability to design and implement newprogramming and be open to the ideas that teachers shared with her inthe hallway. She was completely unaware of how the teachersperceived her behavior and of the impact that her behavior had on thebuilding climate. The same story was evident with another principal in the studywhen teachers spoke of her stress behavior during the focus groups.Without exception, teachers in every focus group spoke of theprincipal as being a micromanager and constantly “telling us what todo.” This particular principal registered a low usual authority score buta high score for authority need. The low usual authority scoreindicated that the principal suggested to the teachers as to how shewanted things done and expected teachers to get them done with little
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 50formal direction. In the principal’s view, she expected the teachers toknow what to do because “they after all were professionals.” Her highauthority need score, which essentially meant that she needed forthings to be done just as she had assigned and in just the manner thatshe expected, was in stark contrast to her usual suggestive manner. Asa result of this contradiction, the faculty described the principal asbeing a “control freak,” “failing to be specific,” and “micromanagingeverything that they did.” To complicate this situation, this particularprincipal’s stress score was high for the authority component, so whenthe principal began to feel the pressure of the superintendent’sexpectations, etc., she began to micromanage the teachers’ classroomswith rather dictatorial behaviors. The climate in the building was tenseand unsettled; described by the teachers and observed by theresearchers. When the principal was asked in her interview about thefeelings of the faculty, she quickly described her usual behavior(suggestive and respectful) and could not acknowledge the controllingbehavior that caused the faculty to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately,as the performance requirements increased by the state, so did hercontrolling behaviors causing the faculty to diminish their trust in theprincipal and reduce performance. Even though she could quicklyarticulate the need for developing trustful relationships, it wasimpossible for her to discuss her behaviors that were prohibitive to thedevelopment of a positive climate. Recommendations Once again, we can articulate the strategies and cite theliterature that encourages climate change and building trust, but unlessthe principal is aware of personal behavioral patterns, the probabilityof creating the necessary environmental criteria that supports trust andpositive relationships is seriously diminished. Changing the climate ina building that has been rather dysfunctional for years is almost aninsurmountable task. DuFour and Eaker (1998) offered great strategiesto begin this work among a faculty, but there is preliminary work thatthe principal must do before exploring the values and beliefs with the
51 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNALfaculty. To complicate this process, all of the motivating needs of theprincipal will affect his or her expression of educationally held valuesand beliefs. Even though supportive of consensus generated values, anindividual’s motivations will impact what the principal actually does,defining the walk versus the talk. The Leadership Profile generates generous feedback regarding11 different components that assess leadership behavior. From each ofthese components the principal is able to match perception to action.In most cases, it is the principal’s needs that they are not able to easilyidentify and determine impact on people and processes. With the twocomponents, structure and authority, discussed in this article, we didnot expect that these components would surface the level of responsefrom the faculty as they did. We expected that the teachers wouldrespond to the components that describe the principal’s behaviorregarding developing and maintaining relationships. Even thoughrelationship building was important to the teachers and sometimesmentioned in the focus groups, it was the principals’ behaviorsregarding structure and authority that took center stage. Theprincipals’ behaviors for these two components generated thefollowing concerns for the teachers: • Consistency and predictability in response to systems and procedure management • Trust of teacher professionalism in instructional delivery and discipline • Clarity of instructions and expectations • Reactionary management and oversight • Prior knowledge of programmatic or system changesTo be sure, these are only a few of the concerns that emerged fromthese two components, but the impact of the behaviors of just theseexamples bring to the fore front how terribly important it is tounderstand personal motives and behaviors. A principal can avow thathe/she values teacher discretion, but frequent appearances in the
Shirley Johnson and Steve Busch 52classroom to correct the teacher or offer suggestions in front of thestudents or provide repeated unwarranted interference will destroyrelationships as well as trust in the principal intention. Self-awareness is crucial to success as an administrator.Finding the appropriate methods to enable aspiring principals todiscover those important findings is difficult, yet with the workgenerated from the Leadership Profile, our next generation of researchwill focus on the relationship of climate with the behaviors ofprincipals in schools.
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